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Comments by Reviewers on Through Veterans’ Eyes.

Review by Rachel Wiley, Intern, Iraq Veterans Against the War,  [posted July 2011]

Larry Minear’s Through Veterans’ Eyes takes an in-depth look at the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in order to place their selected experiences within the context of the history of the region, and American foreign policy. Separated into sections (setting, experience and reentry) Minear uses veterans’ own words to explain his points. He allows firsthand accounts to dominate the book, only offering his own thoughts to put the stories within a larger framework of American policy overseas and at home. He, and the veterans whose accounts fill the pages, touch on topics such as the psychological ramifications of being in combat, and coming home to an already overextended veterans’ support network.

The style of Minear’s piece makes it a good fit for a variety of readers. The easily identifiable topics, acronyms and abbreviation pages, and frank explanations make it a good primer for those not as familiar with veteran issues. It can answer many questions that civilians may have about a variety of issues relating to the war. At the same time the testimonies collected can allow veterans a way to tap into a broader experience that may or may not resemble their own. Overall this book is a well pieced together narrative of personal experiences that many readers will find value in.

Review by Kristiana Willsley, Indiana University, in the Journal of Folklore Research, posted on Jan. 19, 2011.

Larry Minear’s political science/oral history hybrid offers a cautiously non-partisan account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the diverse perspectives of the men and women in the armed forces. From the title, readers might expect (and look forward to) a collection of sustained narratives from individual soldiers. However, the book is instead an overview of the two combat theaters that strings together isolated quotes to paint a general picture of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom through the enlistment, combat, and reentry experience. Drawing on some 150 accounts selected randomly from the Veteran’s Oral History Project, Minear weaves together selections from different narratives to underscore the complexity and diversity of perspectives present in the military. The resulting composite narrative is thorough and readable, and an impressive range of voices is heard from. However, the inevitable counterpart is that there is not sufficient time spent with any one narrator to approach real insight into their experience, which is the book’s professed aim.

Part I, The Setting, is a brief introductory chapter, which provides social and political context for the War on Terror. Readers will find nothing new here, though Minear does navigate through a political minefield with remarkable skill. Part II, The Experience, covers a range of recurrent themes in the stories of soldiers (for the sake of simplicity Minear extends this label to service members from all branches of the military), from reasons for enlistment, battlefield ethics, politics, patriotism, culture shock, and winning hearts and minds. Minear places particular, welcome emphasis on the ways this war differs from previous ones—notably, the ease of communication between overseas soldiers and their families at home. Gone are the long lines for public phones and letters blacked out by censors. Instead, soldiers blog from the frontlines—though the concepts of a “frontline” and “rear echelon,” many note, no longer apply to the kind of war being fought now. The ubiquity of media has changed the nature of war; soldiers point out that when they can google the statistics the day after a battle, no one has any right to be uninformed.

By bringing different narratives into conversation and setting diverse opinions against each other, Minear re-constructs fascinating debates over issues like the military’s role as a peacekeeping force. Some feel strongly that humanitarian efforts are better left to organizations like the Peace Corps, while others feel that hearts-and-minds operations like distributing school supplies to children is the first and best thing about the presence of American troops in the Middle East. The question is a serious one: is there such a thing as neutral humanitarian aid? While civilian organizations can afford to offer nonpartisan charity, soldiers are keenly aware that extending free medical care to villagers who might return with IEDs is poor wartime strategy. Hearing this complex issue addressed by the men and women who experience it firsthand is a compelling argument for more books like this one.

The veterans have insight into problems facing a modernizing military that the general public is largely oblivious to. Especially interesting is the discussion of private contractors and the extent to which commercial suppliers have colonized the military. Some bases overseas are miniature cities where the comforts of home, like fast food and expensive electronics, are available for purchase. Despite the comfort and convenience, many soldiers expressed disgust and frustration at the privatization of services that were once taken care of in-house—particularly when those conveniences cost lives. Being assigned as security detail to shipments of big-screen televisions or kitty litter rubbed many the wrong way.

Part III, Reentry, deals with the difficulty of readjusting to civilian society, when hard-won survival skills like quick reflexes, snap decision-making, and keeping communication to a minimum, are suddenly a liability and embarrassment. Good soldiers become merely tightly-wound, reckless, taciturn civilians, because the transition from soldier back to ordinary citizen is ambiguous and underfunded.

Minear notes that of the 864 billion dollars spent on the war between 9/11 and 2009, less than one percent was spent on medical care for veterans, a shocking statistic—particularly in light of the advances in medicine that have resulted in much higher percentages of returning wounded than in any previous war.

Minear’s approach is painstakingly unbiased; for every outspoken anti-Muslim voice there is a culturally-sensitive counter-quote, and if one Marine has grown disillusioned with his mission there is a National Guard member who, initially unsure, is now convinced of the good her service has done. Every chapter ends with a brief paragraph of summation, usually reiterating that the issue is complicated and conflicting opinions numerous. The effect is rather frustratingly flat, but is undeniably fair. Through Veteran’s Eyes is a solid, even-handed overview, but it does sacrifice depth for comprehensiveness.

Comments from advance readers

“Larry Minear has given voice to an entire generation of combat veterans whose experience will shape our society for decades to come.The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will henceforth serve as the dominant reference point for the American debate on issues of war and peace, just as World War II, Korea, and Vietnam shaped our national attitudes for the past half century. If you want to know what our soldiers and marines have taken away from their service in America’s latest wars, Larry Minear’s balanced and insightful account is the perfect place to start.”

—Amb. James F. Dobbins, former U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan and author of After the Taliban: Nation-Building
in Afghanistan

“Minear’s lens is compassionate; it does not flinch from nor dwell on uncomfortable facts. His own narrative does not embellish the service and sacrifice of soldiers and their families; these are clear enough to the reader. This view of United States military engagements in the last decade, through the eyes of its veterans, will likely leave the reader transformed. Through Veterans’ Eyes weaves a tapestry of experience of U.S. military personnel in, and after they return from, recent warzones.”
—Karen Guttieri, faculty, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California

“Larry Minear takes us on a wide-ranging tour of going to war and coming home. He sets the scene, then lets the people who’ve lived it speak for themselves in their own words, unvarnished, without spin. Outsiders will come away with new understanding. Insiders will nod and know they have been heard.”
—Kristin Henderson, military spouse and author of While They’re at War: The True Story of American Families on the Homefront

“To truly understand a combat veteran, you have to be one. Minear’s sterling collection of first-hand accounts and thoughtful analysis is as close as you can get to the complex experience of war without ever setting foot on a battlefield. It’s an important contribution toward helping our military, and our society, better appreciate the extraordinary sacrifices of these men and women. Through Veterans’ Eyes is honest, gritty and sometimes unpleasant. Whether we have the stomach for it, is an entirely different matter.”
—Maj. Greg Heilshorn, Public Affairs Officer, New Hampshire National Guard

“Larry Minear has brought the war home to any American who wants to listen. After setting the stage through careful and comprehensive documentation, he wisely lets the veterans speak for themselves about their war and re-entry experiences. Since warriors and their families represent a tiny minority of the American public, this book gives the rest of us a crucial opportunity to understand the challenges and difficulties which they have confronted and which many of them continue to face today.”
—Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, Executive Director, National Center for PTSD, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

“The clarity with which the veterans express themselves and the success the author has had in capturing their thoughts represent a powerful use of oral history. This book should prove of immeasurable value in contributing to the national dialog on these contentious wars.”
—Gen. Richard I. Neal, Assistant Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

“Through Veterans’ Eyes captures the voices of returning service members. Each person’s experience as a ‘citizen warrior’ is critical information that can help communities respond to their needs throughout the deployment cycle—pre-, during, and post-. Their job was to defend us. Our job is to listen and take action.”
—Nancy Rollins, Associate Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Capt. George S. Grove, U.S. Navy (ret.) permalink
    March 26, 2011 1:15 pm

    Through Veterans’ Eyes should be required reading in boot camp. …

  2. Dax Carpenter, U.S. Marine Corps (ret.). A veteran of three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, Carpenter is a volunteer working to ensure that veterans in Fayette, ARK and nearby Missouri and Oklahoma receive the necessary rehabilitative services. permalink
    July 16, 2011 1:42 pm

    “Your book is one of the three books I use to help veterans’ families understand the veteran as well as what the veteran has gone through.”

  3. David Koehler, retired Minneapolis businessman. permalink
    December 16, 2012 8:31 pm

    This is a very sober book about some dark issues. For that reason I found it difficult to keep reading. I had to force myself to confront the darkness of these stories. Although the author refrains from editorializing, the overall picture is very dark.

  4. January 27, 2013 12:55 pm

    I’m so excited to be part of this aeuvntdre with you all !!!! It’s an incredibly wonderful feeling to give yourself completely and wholeheartedly to our dear Lord. He has not steered me wrong once since I stopped thinking that my life was in my control. I’m so blessed by his presence in my life. He’s is our father and when we finally break down all the barriers, we can feel Him right there! It’s a wonderful feeling!!! Can’t wait to meet everyone!

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